Your Next Contractor Could Be a Digital Nomad

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Sep 12, 2018

According to new estimates from MBO Partners’ 2018 State of Independence in America research, 17 million independent workers aspire to someday become digital nomads — a term referencing workers who embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work remotely.

An additional 4.8 million Americans already pursue digitally nomadic independent work on a full- or part-time basis. In contrast, 41.8 million people are currently working independently, so this figure is about one in ten, or 11%, of the total population of independent workers.

MBO has produced the first research quantifying just how many people are currently pursuing nomadic work and lifestyles, as well as the deepest dive today into what type of person makes up this unique and fast-growing population.

We break down what digital nomadism is, data behind the trend, as well as what this means for HR professionals and their organization’s contingent workforce strategy.

Remote workers more accepted

According to Gallup, 43% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time, and the share of these workers who work remotely 4-5 days per week increased from 24% in 2012 to 31% in 2016. This broader shift to remote work also means firms are growing more familiar and comfortable with hiring remote workers, even if they’re halfway around the world.

Additionally, tools and technology for digital nomads, and remote work in general, has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, so much so that organizations may not even know they have engaged a digital nomad. From co-living and co-working spaces, to online talent marketplaces, to tour services dedicated specifically to helping digital nomads, the services available continue to make life easier and more productive for those who wish to work this way.

 Who are the digital nomads?

As with independent workers at large, digital nomads defy a single definition in terms of age, income level, sex, profession, or motivation.

While, by and large, it’s a young, male population, our research shows 31% of nomads are female and 54% are older than 38. Nomadism is particularly popular among Baby Boomers, as many are delaying retirement or choosing to “unretire” into independent work.

Nomads work full- and part-time. While 38% earn less than $10,000 annually, one in six (about 790,000) earn $75,000 or more each year.

It’s no surprise that professions also vary widely among digital nomads, but fields like creative services (writers, designers, editors), IT (programmers, developers), and marketing and communications tend to dominate, likely because these jobs can be done across time zones, using digital tools and the Internet. 

What this means for HR

MBO asked Americans with traditional jobs if they planned on becoming digital nomads over the next 2-3 years and the numbers were striking, with 17 million people saying yes, and 42 million people saying maybe.

While we know these numbers are, by and large, aspirational, the data suggests digital nomadism will likely grow substantially over the next few years. That means employers will need a preparation strategy to handle a workforce — both traditional and contingent — that would (if possible) enjoy the ability to work from anywhere.

This means becoming a “client of choice” — pursuing policies and procedures that make your organization one that top independent professionals want to engage with. Factors contributing to client of choice status range from valuing an independent’s work product and allowing them to control both their work and schedule, to treating them as a member of your broader team. Additional areas, such as improving work processes and payment terms for independent workers, are also important to maintaining client of choice status.

Whether your organization is already adept at engaging independent talent or is just starting to consider a holistic strategy for total talent management, consideration of digital nomads will prove vital, both now and in the future.

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